I've recently been on the lookout for some filters/presets/actions/whatever to take my photographs to the next level. In the course of my journey, I bought the Flare app for my Mac and found it to be a colossal waste of money. While reviews stated it was great for beginners and adequate for professionals, I found their preset filters to be amateurish and unpleasant. Many of them mimicked the effect of having an old film camera, complete with emulsion spots and grainy texture. This might be fine for photos I produce playing around with my iPhone, but I would never think of presenting anything produced by Flare for a client.
Thus, I retreated back into the arms of my current photo app of choice, Aperture 3 for Mac, and tried to find some decent presets to work within it. It's a minefield out there when it comes to finding decent presets. A Google search for "Aperture presets" turns up spam site within spam site, and most of the sites I came across felt as sketchy as hell. That being said, I did find one (XposurePro) that, despite its spartan appearance, actually had some pretty decent stuff for sale (you can pay via Paypal, for those who are wary of site security, as I am).
After copious searching and experimentation, I've arrived at a tentative list of my favorite presets (click to enlarge before/after):
Toy Camera - Alright, this one's kind of a cheat because it comes with Aperture, but I've consistently found it to be a good go-to if I want to punch up my images. Increased vibrancy and a hardcore vignette make the blues and reds in your images really shine.
Monster Punch - This preset puts a lot of emphasis on Edge and Edge Sharpening. The result is a photo that pops, while still looking quite professional. While this preset is quite Warm and its Tint borders on a bit too purple for my tastes, it is a great starting point. It also reminds me of my colleague Tammy Swales' photography style, and that's never a bad thing. Monster Punch is available for free.
Vintage Fashion - Much preferable to Aperture's default Vintage preset, Vintage Fashion gives a glamorous, old-school feel without making everything feel washed out. Vintage Fashion is available from Xposurepro for $2.99.
Retro Vogue - There are a lot of apps that purport to give you a retro/vintage look, but few do it as subtly and with as much grace as the Retro Vogue preset. The colors in Retro Vogue are a little bit punchier than those found in Vintage Fashion, but they still look fantastic. I can tell this is going to be a preset I'm going to return to again and again in the future. Retro Vogue is available from Xposurepro.com for $2.99.